The missing link for student newspapers: Software to support a continuous news desk

When the Spartan Daily made the transition to College Publisher in January, I was struck by just how driven by a daily print cycle an online publishing CMS could be.

Why should it be that way? Why make online production dependent on your print stories being ready for publication? Why wait until after the print edition has been proofed to push the button to publish online?

Most of these questions are answered by the limitations of the software. The newspaper is divided up into dated editions, discouraging students from continuously updating stories. We tried to workaround that by adding a newsticker across the top of the page to use for promos and breaking news. It pulls headlines from a WordPress blog, but little else.

Here’s a question: Many folks, myself include, point to the Golden Gate [X]Press at San Francisco State as a great online student news site. The [X]Press, if I’ve got my facts straight, publishes weekly in print, but updates the online edition continuously, as the stories are edited. The site isn’t run on a conventional newspaper CMS, but on Movable Type, used more often for blogs and other dynamic web content. (Prof. DeVigal, please correct me if any of this is wrong.)

When we talk about redesigning our online edition, the common plea is to “make it look less like a newspaper.”

So how do we do that? And how do we instill student editors with the notion that the Web is the first place they publish, as events happen?

I’m not (just) going to be a part of the handwringing chorus, so here’s a specific, albeit nebulous proposal:

Let’s take an open-source content management system like Mambo or Joomla and craft a few basic templates that don’t look like newspaper front pages frozen in time at 11:30pm last night. Then, let’s offer those up to college papers that can host themselves on university servers and don’t need a hosted solution paid for by national advertising.

Or not. But if you can code a College Publisher template into something that would be useful to a continuous news desk that publishes as soon as the stories are ready, please let me know how it turns out and where I can find one like it.

Actually, that’s what CP really needs: somewhere for coders to exchange information. New Digital Group (aka Digital Partners) had (has?) a message board, and although it was pretty dead by the time I got there, I could read through old posts and find solutions to some problems. That would be helpful.

Okay, I’m off on a rant, but here’s the point: Student newspapers need/want to transition their sites to something resembling a continuously updated news site, and they need a content management system that encourages them.

Check out Rich Cameron’s ideas about a common platform for online student papers, and the advantages of using College Publisher. For now.

Then read Bryan Murley’s chronicle of moving a student paper from static HTML pages to CP, and be sure to peruse the comments as well.